Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff


Lester ready to lead Red Sox pitching staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For as long as Jon Lester has been a member of the Red Sox pitching staff, there's been another pitcher in charge.

In 2006 and 2007, it was Curt Schilling. Since then, it's been Josh Beckett.

But with Schilling long retired and Beckett dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August, Lester, about to begin his eighth season with the Red Sox, is now the club's longest-tenured starter.

At 29, Lester is, finally, the staff leader.

"Since Josh left,'' said Lester Wednesday, "I'm kind of the highest-tenured Red Sox as far as that pitching staff. Yeah, I inherit that responsibility. I take it in full stride.''

Teammate John Lackey may have more experience in the big leagues, but no one has been a Red Sox starter longer than Lester.

"I don't want to call myself a leader,'' he said. "I think the people who nominate themselves to be leaders are kind of false leaders. The guys, kind of like (Jason Varitek), they go out, play hurt, bust their butt, and show everybody that they're the guy, everybody puts that (label) on him. That's what I kind of hope happens. If it doesn't, I'm still going to try to do all those things.''

But even if he's not seeking an official title, Lester seemed to embrace the role.

"I take responsiblity for that,'' he said. "That will be something fun to take on if it is given.''

Before he can set an example, however, Lester acknowledged that he needs to make some changes of his own.

"Obviously, there's a lot of things I can improve on as far as my on-field actions," said Lester. "I know I have had some problems with umpires, some problems with body language at times. I think a lot of people have. It's something we all struggle with. It's something that I can get better with. But you get caught in those moments and being competitive, you kind of throw all that stuff out the window."

Conscious that he needs to make some changes, Lester will focus on setting a good example, a list that includes "taking the ball every five days, grinding every pitch out, trying to be that guy on the field -- whether it's on Field 6 (here) or at Fenway Park -- of good body language, not cussing out the umpires, not throwing fits in the dugout, doing those little things.''

At times, Lester has come off too business-like, almost joyless, as though he's not enjoying his job or the demending city in which he plays.

"I love baseball. I love Boston,'' he said. "People don't see me other than the fifth day. When I'm out there, I'm not out there to joke around with hitters. It may not look like it, but I'm having fun. I love to pitch. I love everything that there is about pitching.

"But I don't want to come across as aloof and (that) I don't care about working hard. I take everything do very seriously.''

Attitude and approach aside, there's also the matter of performance. By his own admission, the 2012 season was not a good one for Lester. He recorded just nine wins and posted an ERA of 4.83, his highest since making the big leagues. His strikeouts were down, his hits allowed were up and there wasn't a lot to like.

And that, emphasized Lester, was nobody's fault but his.

"I didn't really like what happened last year as far as the way I pitched,'' he said. "It's solely on me. That's not on anybody else. That's not on the recolving door of pitching coaches; that's not on our manager; that's not on anybody but myself.

"There's a little bit of a chip there. I want to prove that last year was a fluke and that's not going to happen again."

Lester gets a sense that the players with whom he's grown up in the organization are as determined as he is to put 2012 behind them.

"I don't think it's a matter of talking about last year,'' he said. "You can just see it in some guys. I've played with David (Ortiz), Pedey (Dustin Pedroia) and Ells (Jacoby Ellsbury). We've never -- minor leagues and big leagues -- we've never had a season like that. We've never gotten our ass kicked that bad. It's frustrating and humbling.

"But I think it can be a positive, because no one wants to be that team. I think it gets guys back in the right mindset. Look, we need to play with a chip on our shoulders, we need to not back down when people are trying to step on us. We need to do the little things right. I think you can kind of see that from the first few days. A lot of little things are being done right with good intensity and good tempo.

''I don't think anybody wants to be in the position we were in last year. We want to be on top.''

Red Sox exec Amiel Sawdaye follows Hazen to Arizona


Red Sox exec Amiel Sawdaye follows Hazen to Arizona

The Red Sox lost another key member of their front office Monday, when vice-president of amateur and international scouting Amiel Sawdaye followed former general manager Mike Hazen to Arizona.

Sawdaye will be the Diamondbacks' assistant GM. As stated by Rotoworld, he had been instrumental in building up the Red Sox' young big league talent and farm system.

The Boston Globe reported today that the Red Sox may not fill the GM vacancy created when Hazen left, instead using "other staffers to take on Hazen’s administrative duties". President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski handles many of the duties traditionally associated with the general manager's position, leaving the actual GM's job in Boston as "essentially an assistant [position] with a lofty title but little power".

The Red Sox have also lost two other front-office members this offseason: Senior baseball analyst Tom Tippett, who had been with the organization for eight years, and director of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek, who had been with the Sox for five years.

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.